Last night, the ABC’s Four Corners program exposed the deeply disturbing detention and mistreatment of children and young people held in Queensland’s police watch houses. Almost 60 per cent of children in prison in the state are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.
Reports from Queensland’s Public Guardian, Natalie Siegel-Brown, and over 516 files obtained by Four Corners reveal that children’s rights have been systematically violated in Queensland’s watch houses. One teenage boy, who was found to have the cognitive function of a six-year-old, was kept in a watch house for 34 days. Children as young as ten have been held in watch houses that were described by Ms Siegel-Brown as “a concrete pen designed to hold adults in an acute and dangerous state for up to 48 hours.” Our young people have also attempted suicide, been held in solitary confinement and denied medical treatment in some cases. Many children in watch houses are being held on remand for non-violent offences, rather than being granted bail.
Children have been kept in watch houses as the two youth detention centres in the state are at capacity. The overwhelmed youth justice system is evidence of a government that is failing to provide supports that could prevent children and young people from entering the criminal justice system. As a result, children – many of whom have been through the child protection system – are once again left vulnerable in state care.
“Instead of spending tax-payer money on systems that are ineffective and violate fundamental rights, it is time that governments focus on long-lasting solutions.
“This means investing in culturally safe early intervention and prevention services that support families to provide safe, supportive, stable and culturally affirming environments for our kids to grow up in. This will ensure that the systemic causes of children entering the criminal justice system, such as poverty and child removals, are addressed.”– Natalie Lewis, Family Matters Co-Chair
The Family Matters campaign has called on governments across Australia to increase their investment in early intervention and reunification supports to families by at least 50 per cent immediately so that we can genuinely work towards ensuring our children are safe in their families and communities rather than at risk in state care. The report also highlights the need for greater oversight and accountability for the government systems failing our children. Family Matters is calling for the establishment of a National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Commissioner to ensure that rights violations for our children are identified and there is an adequate response.
Other solutions include investing in diversionary programs, justice reinvestment initiatives, and raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14 years. The Change the Record campaign and the Australian Child Rights Taskforce have called for the minimum age to be raised from 10 to 14.
When the horrors of what was happening at the Don Dale facility were exposed, governments committed to investing in Aboriginal-led solutions. Yet recommendations made by successive inquiries, including the Northern Territory Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children and the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, have been largely ignored.
Family Matters calls on the Queensland Government to work in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and organisations to implement the community-led solutions that we have been calling for for a very long time.
“The Queensland Government can immediately ease the burden on prisons by raising the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 years, and rather than throwing even more money at the problem, invest in the solutions put forward by First Nations people.
“This means redirecting funding that is currently spent on a failing system towards initiatives that strengthen communities and support families.”– Natalie Lewis, Family Matter Co-Chair